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Friday, March 06, 2009

Australian Wild Horses at Risk for Laminitis After Floods Turn Scrubland to Pasture

by Fran Jurga | 6 March 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

The Australian Equine Brumby Research Unit, led by Dr. Chris Pollitt, is hard at work in western Queensland, where the natural habitat of many wild horses is underwater, thanks to once-every-ten-years floods. Yes, as fires destroyed Victoria in the south of Australia, floods were inundating the North!

While laminitis is not believed to be common in wild horses, it apparently is quite a risk during situations like this and might even be thought of as a form of very painful population control. As the floodwaters are absorbed into the desert-like soil or drain into nearby dried-up lake beds, the desert will bloom and even sprout grass.

The foot of a wild horse with laminitis

The wild horses are accustomed to living on scrub weeds, and the researchers assume that the flush of grass causes laminitis. But they have to prove that it is the grass, and that they horses do have grass laminitis. Laminitis might also be caused by a poisonous plant or some other side effect of the environmental change.

The wild horse research group is the brilliant step-child of the Australian Equine Laminitis Research Unit, which studies laminitis in domestic horses and seeks both a way to prevent the disease and to understand the mechanism by which it attacks the inner hooves of horses.

Assisting Dr. Pollitt are several student researchers and, temporarily at least, the able-bodied American, Dr. Don Walsh of the Animal Health Foundation who is on sabbatical to perform laminitis research with the Australians.

The core mission of the brumby (that's Australian for "wild horse") research is to understand how environment affects the wild horse and how its feet change as the environment changes. To that end, the group is tranferring horses between herds and observing and recording the adaptation stages...and whether the horses can even survive the drastic extremes of Australian climates and terrains.

Dr. Pollitt and his group have plenty of wild horses to study: Australia has more wild horses than any other place on earth.

The group has a lively web site with down-to-earth research reports and monthly newsletters, and is a most worthy cause for anyone wishing to support equine research that will benefit horses everywhere, as we finally learn how our management of horses may need to change to maintain the healthiest hooves and the soundest horses.

Hoof Blog Recommends This Link:

To read the February Newsletter from the researchers, click here.

To purchase freeze-dried specimen feet of Australian wild horses, click here.

To donate to the research efforts, click here.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. No use without permission. You only need to ask. Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site,, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to

1 comment:

Mike Miller said...


These are not "wild" horses. They are feral horses -- domestic animals living outside of support and captivity. It appears that the Brumby has a lot of Thoroughbred bloodline as opposed the the feral horses in North America, which are a mixture of animals that the Spaniards brought with them, probably combined with cavalry remounts and other odds and ends.
This is an important distinction, because the breeding of the horse may have a lot to do with the tendency to get or resist laminitis.